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Newsline - October 23, 2001




ANTHRAX SCARE 'HALF PARALYZES' RUSSIAN CITIES

"Vremya MN" reported on 20 October that fears about possible anthrax have led many in St. Petersburg not to open their mail and even to stop corresponding at all, a development that has left that city and others "half paralyzed." But in Moscow, officials told Interfax on 22 October that the number of reports of suspicious substances in letters has begun to decline. Meanwhile, officials at the Vektor Research Institute told Reuters on 22 October that Russia has maintained good security over its anthrax supplies. "You might not love Russia and its bureaucratic system," one of them said, "but right from the start, when the work on biowarfare started in the Soviet Union, security measures were taken." PG

PUTIN, KARIMOV DISCUSS AFGHAN SETTLEMENT

President Putin spoke by telephone on 22 October with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov to discuss both the current antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan and prospects for a settlement after the Taliban are dislodged from power, Interfax reported. Putin's press service noted with satisfaction "the coincidence of approaches to and assessments" of both subjects. PG

RUSSIAN LAUNCHES THIRD PHASE OF AID TO AFGHANISTAN

Russian officials announced on 22 October that Moscow has begun the third phase of its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. More than 70 train cars full of food, medicines, and other goods will be dispatched to Tajikistan in the next few days, the officials said. PG

RUSSIAN SPECIAL FORCES MOBILIZING AFGHAN DIASPORA

According to "Argumenty i fakty" on 17 October, Russia's special services have begun to organize some of the Afghan diaspora in Russia and to train them in "the latest partisan warfare methods and modern weapons-handling techniques." The weekly also reported that Russia may explode some "tectonic weapons" in Afghanistan to block the border with Tajikistan. PG

RUSSIA URGED TO FIGHT AMERICAN ISOLATIONIST TENDENCIES

Konstantin Kosachev, who serves on the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said in an interview published in "Vek," No. 41, that Russia must work with Europe, Japan, and China to restrain the United States from what he called "the temptations of self-isolation." Otherwise, Moscow may find itself in a difficult position if the United States once again turns away from active involvement in international affairs, he said. PG

PRO-U.S. DEMONSTRATION AT MOSCOW EMBASSY.

Activists of the Revolutionary Contact Organization on 21 October organized a small demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in support of American policy in Afghanistan, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 October. Some of the activists carried signs reading "The Enemies of America are the Enemies of Russia" and "America Must Rule the World." PG

PUTIN TELLS CABINET TO TAKE NEGATIVE ECONOMIC TRENDS INTO ACCOUNT

President Putin told the government on 22 October to take into account the impact on Russia of negative economic trends in the international economy, Russian agencies reported. He added that the government must "also draw the attention of the State Duma deputies" to such trends. Putin said that the government is doing a good job controlling inflation but must continue to be on the look out for future problems. PG

PUTIN REVERSES HIMSELF ON CRIMINAL PROCEDURES

Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy head of the presidential administration, said President Putin has prepared some 80 new amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, including one that would reverse his position in one important area, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 October. A year ago, Putin pressured the Duma to approve a provision allowing judges to initiate criminal procedures without reference to prosecutors, but now he is backing an amendment that would restore the role of prosecutors in launching criminal investigations. VY

WILL RUSSIA REDUCE OIL EXPORTS?

President Putin on 22 October received Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to discuss oil exports, RBK reported. Venezuela is currently the chairman of OPEC. Putin rejected an appeal by Chavez to restrict Russian oil exports, saying that he does not want to hurt the West at a difficult time. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that there may be another reason for Putin's refusal: many Russian wells are in such poor condition that it would be difficult if not impossible to restart them were they to be shut down for any significant period. But the same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said OPEC has not asked Russia to reduce oil exports, but that Moscow may choose to do so after the special session of OPEC in November, Interfax reported. VY/PG

KASYANOV, JOSPIN AGREE ON NEED FOR COMMON ECONOMIC SPACE IN EUROPE

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and visiting French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin agreed on 22 October on the need to move toward a common economic space embracing both Russia and Western Europe, Interfax reported. Kasyanov welcomed France's support for Russia's application to join the World Trade Organization and said Moscow may repay some former Soviet-era debt ahead of schedule. Jospin said that there needs to be a political solution to the Chechen problem. The two also agreed on the need for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the news agency said. Kasyanov also said that Russia plans to move gradually from the dollar to the euro in its international payments and reserve regimes, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBERS SEEK PRIVATIZATION OF NUCLEAR INDUSTRY

A group of Federation Council members held hearings on 22 October on the liberalization of ownership rights in nuclear facilities in Russia, and most of the participants spoke out in favor of the privatization of most nuclear facilities, RIA-Novosti reported. Federation faction head Valerii Goreglyad said such privatization would increase the attractiveness of Russia for foreign investors. VY

SELEZNEV SAYS TERRITORY'S VOTES IN FEDERATION COUNCIL SHOULD REFLECT POPULATION

Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 23 October that the current arrangement in the Federation Council is "not quite fair," and that the country's electoral system should be reformed in such a way that the number of deputies from a given territory in the upper house of parliament should reflect the size of its population, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIANS DIVIDED ON WHETHER HAVING A PARLIAMENT IS USEFUL

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported in "Izvestiya" on 22 October, 40 percent of Russians believe that the country would be better off if the parliament ceased to exist and its functions were transferred to the executive branch, while 40 percent think that such an arrangement would only make things worse. Those favoring the disbanding of a parliamentary form of government are predominantly older, more rural, less educated, and more communist; those favoring keeping the parliament are younger, more urban, more educated, and less communist, the pollsters reported. PG

DUMA SEEN READY TO MAKE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE KNOWLEDGE MANDATORY FOR OFFICIALS

The Duma is currently considering and is likely to pass legislation making knowledge of the Russian language mandatory for all civil servants, pravda.ru reported on 22 October. The bill also calls for state support of the Russian language that it characterizes as "a convenient and universal vehicle for the realization of human and civil rights." VY

DUMA DEPUTY DENIES CONDUCTING 'OFFICIAL' TALKS WITH CHECHENS

Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman Yurii Shchekochikhin told ITAR-TASS on 22 October that he has not conducted any "official negotiations" with representatives of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, but admitted that he has met with Ilyas Akhmadov, whom Shchekochikhin described as "the foreign minister in the government of Aslan Maskhadov in exile." The Duma deputy added that these meetings were openly reported in Moscow's "Novaya gazeta," of which Shchekochikhin is deputy editor in chief. PG

DEPUTIES SPLIT ON WISDOM OF HAVING INTERIOR MINISTRY CONTROL MIGRATION

Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma International Relations Committee, said on 22 October that he believes Moscow must tighten restrictions on issuing entry visas in order to prevent illegal immigration, RIA-Novosti reported. He added that he welcomes the transfer of migration policy to the Interior Ministry, as he believes that agency could do more to block a further influx of illegal immigrants. But Duma speaker Seleznev said the same day that transferring control over migration to the Interior Ministry will lead to a deterioration of conditions for forced migrants, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Interior Ministry officials said they will pursue a "respectful" approach in their dealings with immigrants, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 October. VY/PG

PEOPLES' PARTY TO REGISTER

Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the Peoples' Deputy Duma faction, said on 22 October that his group will register this week as a political party, Interfax reported. He said the party has 40,000 members and that 52 of the 60 members of the Peoples' Deputy faction have joined the party. Meanwhile, an article in "Vek," No. 41, noted that almost all of the new parties "from across the political spectrum" have identified themselves as pro-Putin. The paper suggests that this gives Putin room to maneuver, as well as allow various factions in the Kremlin to play politics. PG

PROSECUTORS CONFIRM ARREST WARRANT FOR BEREZOVSKY...

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov confirmed on 22 October earlier media reports that his office has issued a warrant for the arrest of embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky in connect with the misuse of funds at Aeroflot, RTR reported. Ustinov said that Berezovsky will be arrested if and when he returns to Russia. VY

...AND CHARGES AGAINST AKSENENKO

A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office said on 22 October that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko has been indicted for the misuse of $500 million of funds, polit.ru reported. The spokesman added that Aksenenko's ministry underpaid its taxes and illegally purchased apartments for its managers. Aksenenko for his part said that the charges have been the result of a frame-up outside the prosecutor's office, Interfax reported. VY/PG

CUBAN EMIGRES SAID TO APPROVE MOSCOW'S DECISION TO PULL OUT OF LOURDES LISTENING POST

Even as Russian deputies and commentators continued to question the wisdom of Moscow's decision to end the operation of the Lourdes electronic listening post in Cuba, "Izvestiya" on 20 October cited Cuban emigres in Florida as welcoming this step. PG

RUSSIA LIFTS BAN ON MEAT FROM FLORIDA

The Russian government on 22 October lifted a ban that it had imposed a week earlier on meat products from Florida after reports of anthrax in that state, ITAR-TASS reported. Various Russian media outlets had suggested that if the ban was not lifted, Russian consumers would face higher prices for chicken and other meat from Florida. PG

KOZAK SAYS NEW STAGE OF FEDERAL REFORMS TO START

Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy head of the presidential administration, said on 22 October that Russia is beginning a second stage of reform of federal relations, Interfax reported. He said that harmonization of laws has been completed and that now both Moscow and the regions must work on precise delimitation of powers among the various levels of state authority. PG

A 'NEO-COLONIALIST' SOLUTION TO THE CHECHEN PROBLEM?

In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 October, analyst Yevgenii Ikhlov argued that the best solution to the Chechen problem may be independence for that republic combined with Russian control over much of its economy and foreign relations -- in short, a neocolonial solution. Ikhlov said that "for the Kremlin, what is important is a stable Chechnya included in the field of Russian culture and economics. A Chechnya in which it is possible to play freely on the internal political field and carefully develop a 'Russophile' party... Russia today must make a strategic choice not between a Chechnya within the Russian Federation or an independent Ichkeria but between a sovereign Ichkeria [semi-civil and semi-democratic] which plays by the rules of the game and is a forepost of Islamist radicalism [a Caucasus 'Cuba'] next door." PG

TRADE UNIONS SEEN HELPING TO INTEGRATE FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 22 October, Vladimir Shcherbakov, the head of the General Conference of Labor, said that his group, which includes trade unionists from the CIS countries, could help promote the integration within the CIS because the defense of the rights of workers is "a consolidating factor." PG

RUSHAILO SAYS RUSSIAN AIRLINER BROUGHT DOWN BY UKRAINIAN MISSILE

Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said on 22 October that a Ukrainian missile had accidentally brought down a Russian airliner on 4 October, Interfax reported. At the same time, he said that Russia will not pay any compensation to the families of the victims, as that is Ukraine's responsibility. Meanwhile, Russia's Sibir airlines said on 22 October that it plans to file a suit against those responsible for the crash, Russian and Western news agencies reported. PG

MOSCOW TO REINTEGRATE ARMENIAN DEFENSE INDUSTRY STRUCTURE INTO RUSSIAN ONE

The Russian and Armenian governments have agreed to incorporate Armenian defense enterprises into the Russian military industry complex by allowing Moscow to acquire 100 percent of the shares in the Armenian plants, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 October. Russia plans to purchase approximately 30 Armenian firms for a price of $94 million. VY

CHIEF OF STAFF PLEASED BY RUSSIAN-CHINESE REGIONAL COOPERATION

General Anatolii Kvashnin, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said in Beijing on 22 October that Russia and China have "a common outlook toward many major international issues and make joint efforts to protect peace and stability in the region and on the planet as a whole," ITAR-TASS reported. Both countries, he said, oppose "a monopolar world." PG

INDIAN SUBMARINE TESTED IN BALTIC SEA

A Kilo class submarine built in Russia and sold to India was tested by Indian naval personnel in a Baltic Sea exercise earlier this month, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 18 October. The paper noted significant media attention to the exercise but not to the Indian-manned submarine's role in it. PG

PULIKOVSKII UPBEAT ABOUT RUSSIAN-KOREAN RAIL, PIPELINE LINKS

Upon his return from a trip to South Korea, Konstantin Pulikovskii, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, said on 22 October that South Koreans are very interested in linking the rail and pipeline grids of that country with the Russian ones, RBK reported. Pulikovskii stressed that he is confident that closer links between the two countries will not negatively impact the volume of traffic through Russia's Far Eastern ports. VY

BUMPER GRAIN HARVEST ENDS

Agriculture Ministry officials on 22 October said that the grain harvest for 2001 has been completed, Interfax reported. They said that more than 90 million tons (precleaned or bunker weight) has been taken from the fields, and predicted that the post-cleaning weight of the harvest will total 82.5-83 million tons, up from 65.4 million tons in 2000. Another ministry official said that the government will begin intervening in the grain market as of 1 November, the news service reported. PG

WISDOM OF PAYING OFF DEBT EARLY QUESTIONED

In an article published in "Finansovaya Rossiya" on 18 October, Konstantin Frumkin said that Russia may be making a mistake by paying off some of its foreign debts early. That is because the debts Moscow plans to repay in advance are those of the Central Bank rather than of the government itself. Consequently, Russia will be exchanging some cheap debts for more expensive ones. But Frumkin concluded that this step may nonetheless be useful if the economy sours and Russia needs new IMF loans, or if having repaid some debts early Russia can induce the IMF to help it write off some of the Paris Club debt. PG

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO HEAD 'KURSK' INVESTIGATION

Prosecutor-General Ustinov intends to head the investigation into the causes of the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine in August 2000, Interfax-Northwest reported on 22 October. Ustinov visited the floating dock where the "Kursk" is now being held on the same day, and he expressed confidence that the mystery behind the sinking of the submarine will be solved. Meanwhile, officials in Roslyakovo announced that all 26 grippers holding the "Kursk" to the pontoons have been removed, Interfax reported. PG

OLIGARCH LAUNCHES A NEWSPAPER

Vladimir Lisin, the chairman of the Novolipetsk Metals Plant, is behind the launch of a new newspaper, "Gazeta," "Ekspert" reported on 15 October. "Ekspert" said that notwithstanding Lisin's denials, the launch of the paper is intended to promote his political ambitions. Meanwhile, Interfax-Moscow reported on 22 October that the head of Sistema, Vladimir Yevtushenkov, plans to become involved in the media business as well. PG

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS THREATEN TO RESUME HUNGER STRIKE

Sergei Kovalev, the head of the Federation of Russian Air Traffic Controller Unions, told Interfax on 22 October that members may resume a hunger strike if the government and the airlines do not begin to negotiate seriously. The controllers struck on 10-11 October, but ended their hunger strike after being promised serious talks. PG

ALFEROV SAYS RUSSIAN SCIENCE MUST RELY ON DOMESTIC SUPPORT

Academician Zhores Alferov told ITAR-TASS on 22 October that Russian science must demand more support from Russian government sources and not spend its time pursuing international assistance. He added that some Russian oligarchs are beginning to understand that they need to invest in science to improve their own positions in the future. PG

EVERY TENTH DRAFTEE IN KALININGRAD HAS CRIMINAL RECORD

Ten percent of the men drafted in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad have criminal records, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 18 October. The paper said that all of the draftees there will serve their time in Kaliningrad Oblast. PG

RUSSIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECLINE

Russia's population declined by 589,700 people or 0.4 percent during the first eight months of 2001, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 October, citing the State Statistics Committee. Meanwhile, Interfax-Moscow reported on 22 October that the number of people in the Russian capital infected with hepatitis A has increased by 60 percent since the start of 2001. PG

RUSSIAN MOBILE PHONES CONCENTRATED IN MOSCOW

Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said on 22 October that there will be 6 million cellular phones in Russia by the end of 2001, Interfax reported. He noted that 5 million of these will be in Moscow, 500,000 in St. Petersburg, and the remaining 500,000 spread over the rest of the country. PG

UNIVERSITY INSTRUCTORS GET THREE YEARS FOR TAKING $10 BRIBE

Three instructors at Altai State University have been sentenced to prison terms of three to four years for taking bribes of $10 to $35 from students seeking to change their grades, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 October. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN GEORGIA, ROLE IN CONFLICT MEDIATION...

In a 22 October interview with the Georgian news agency Prime News pegged to the arrival the following day on a two-day official visit to Armenia of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Robert Kocharian characterized the Russian military base in Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern district of Djavakheti as a guarantee of regional security and as the sole source of survival for much of the district's population, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. At the same time, Kocharian said the question of closing that base must be resolved by Moscow and Tbilisi alone. The Georgian government wants the base closed within two to three years, while Moscow is insisting on a longer time frame for doing so. Kocharian said Armenia is ready to contribute toward alleviating the extremely difficult socioeconomic situation in Djavakheti. Describing Russia's presence in the South Caucasus in general as "a stabilizing factor," Kocharian said the greater Moscow's input to trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict, the greater the chances of success in doing so. He said at the current stage the OSCE Minsk Group is the "most acceptable" format for mediation efforts as the effectiveness of recent meetings with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev "is not high." He nonetheless conceded that his earlier meetings with Aliyev "provided a good basis for comparing approaches and identifying points" on which their views converge, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...COMMENTS ON GEORGIAN-TURKISH COOPERATION, CHANCES FOR EU ACCESSION

Kocharian also admitted that Yerevan is "not happy" about the increasingly intensive military cooperation between Georgia and Turkey, but added that at present, dimensions of that cooperation do not give cause for "serious concern." He said Armenia would be prepared to participate in a collective initiative to resolve the conflict situation in Abkhazia, but said it is "unlikely" that Armenia would send troops to serve in a multinational peacekeeping force there. Kocharian noted that both Georgia and Armenia have built a "constructive relationship" with the EU, but that the issue of Armenian accession to that body is one for the next generation of politicians to decide. Kocharian, who is 47, announced last month that he plans to seek a second presidential term in 2003. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER FLIES TO FRANCE FOR MEDICAL EXAMINATION

Andranik Markarian flew to Paris on 22 October to undergo heart tests, Interfax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian, who is 50, underwent heart surgery in 1999. His duties are being discharged in his absence by Minister for Industrial Infrastructure David Zadoyan. In a lengthy interview with "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" on 18 October, Markarian rejected as "not serious" persistent rumors that he will soon resign or be dismissed. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DISCLOSE MORE DETAILS OF PLOT TO KILL PUTIN

A statement released on 22 October by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry gives more details of the scheme to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin during his January 2001 visit to Baku, Turan and AP reported. The statement identified the main suspect, Kenan Rostam, as an Iraqi Kurd who was trained in Afghanistan and had contacts with "people who were at Osama bin Laden's training camps." He is said to have traveled in 1997 to Chechnya where he married a local woman, and to have entered Azerbaijan in February 2000 using a false Russian passport. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) reportedly intercepted a telephone call made on 15 November 2000 to Baku by Chechen field commander Arbi Baraev in which the plans to assassinate Putin were discussed. Rostam was arrested three days later, and explosives and radio-controlled devices were found in his apartment. FSB troops surrounded and killed Baraev in a special operation in Chechnya in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR GREATER UNITY

Speaking to journalists in Baku on 22 October, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar called on Azerbaijani opposition parties, which are split into two rival camps, to cooperate more closely and to consider nominating a single opposition candidate in the presidential elections due in 2003, Turan reported. Gambar was one of five influential opposition leaders who jointly agreed to boycott the October 1998 presidential ballot on the grounds that the election campaign was undemocratic (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 27, 2 September 1998). LF

AZERBAIJAN TO OPEN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL NEXT YEAR

Meeting on 22 October with new Israeli Ambassador Eitan Naeh, Azerbaijan's President Aliyev noted the convergence between their two countries' views on combating terrorism, and assured him that Azerbaijan would welcome Israeli investments, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijan's foreign minister, Vilayat Quliev, said the same day that while Azerbaijan has not up till now opened an embassy in Tel Aviv because of financial constraints, it will do so next year. That announcement is likely to result in yet another postponement of Aliev's state visit to Iran originally scheduled for September 1999. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT ACCUSES GEORGIA OF RECRUITING 'INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS'

In a 16 October appeal to the Turkish Grand National Assembly made available to "RFE/RL Newsline" on 22 October, the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia claimed that the 3 October incursion into Abkhaz territory by a group of 500 men initially identified as Chechen fighters and Georgian guerrillas was the result of collusion between the Georgian special services and "an international band of terrorists." The statement also blames that band for the shooting down on 8 October of a helicopter belonging to the UN Observer Mission in Georgia. The statement appeals to Turkish legislators to condemn Georgian involvement with international terrorism and to demand that Georgia comply with UN-mediated documents pledging to desist from any further military action against Abkhazia. Interfax on 22 October quoted Georgian President Shevardnadze as claiming that the fighting in Abkhazia was triggered by "the movement of an unauthorized band" that was trying to reach the North Caucasus from Georgian territory. LF

POPULATION FLEES SCENE OF RECENT ABKHAZ FIGHTING

Women and children are leaving the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of Abkhazia's Kodori gorge, fearing air attacks and mines dropped on mountain pastures, Caucasus Press reported on 23 October. The previous day, the headquarters of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia rejected as untrue a Georgian Defense Ministry report that a Russian peacekeeper had been blown up by such a mine, Interfax reported. On 17 October, the Georgian government representative to Kodori complained that vital supplies needed to ensure the local population's survival during the winter months -- including 310 tons of wheat flour, 35 tons of sugar, 35 tons of salt, 35 tons of vegetable oil, 10 tons of washing powder, and 60 tons fuel and kerosene -- have still not been sent from Tbilisi. Roads to the region are impassable after 15 November, Caucasus Press reported. LF

DEFEATED CANDIDATE AGAIN SAYS GEORGIAN BY-ELECTION OUTCOME FALSIFIED...

Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who according to official returns polled only some 9 percent of the vote in the 21 October by-election in the Tbilisi district of Vake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001), claimed on 22 October that between 10,000-12,000 forged ballots were cast in favor of former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, who was proclaimed the victor with 64 percent of the votes, Caucasus Press reported. Sarishvili-Chanturia again called for the resignation of Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava, whom she accused manipulating the voting process. Zodelava rejected her accusations as "senseless." LF

...WHILE VICTOR CHALLENGES GEORGIAN PRESIDENT

Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 October that President Shevardnadze and the current Georgian government from which he resigned last month do not reflect the will of the Georgian people, and that a new national movement that will be above party politics will work to bring about a peaceful change of leadership, Caucasus Press reported. He accused Shevardnadze of having warned members of the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia not to vote for Saakashvili. Also on 22 October, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania said that Saakashvili's return to parliament will provide a new incentive to those "fighting for reform," Caucasus Press reported. LF

ANOTHER ANTHRAX SCARE REPORTED IN KAZAKHSTAN

A woman has been hospitalized in Almaty after receiving a letter containing a suspicious white powder, Interfax reported on 22 October. It is the second such suspicious letter intercepted within the past week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). The powder contained in the first letter has proven to be harmless. Postal workers in Kazakhstan have been ordered to wear gloves and masks while sorting mail, Kazakhpochta's chief executive told journalists on 22 October. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT SUGGESTS THAT UZBEK TOO COULD BE DESIGNATED AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament) began debating on 22 October the amendments to the constitution passed by the upper chamber three days earlier formally designating Russian as an official language, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Some deputies proposed that Russian be designated not merely an official language but the second state language, while others proposed that Uzbek too should be granted the status of an official language. Uzbeks account for some 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population and Russians 13 percent. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT OVERRULES PARLIAMENT ON TAX RATE

The Kyrgyz government has submitted to parliament a new draft law raising the tax rate to 20 percent, parliamentary committee head Akylbek Djaparov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 22 October. In June, parliament passed a law, signed in July by President Askar Akaev, lowering the tax rate from 30 to 10 percent as of 1 January 2002. The IMF subsequently adduced that cut as grounds for withholding a planned $35 million loan tranche (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 21 September 2001). LF

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TURKMENISTAN

Ismail Cem, accompanied by Turkish Ambassador to Turkmenistan Sehmet Gursoz and Turkish Foreign Ministry coordinator for Afghanistan Aydemir Kermap, held talks in Ashgabat on 22 October with President Saparmurat Niyazov on the situation in Afghanistan and the transportation of humanitarian aid to that country's population, Interfax reported. Niyazov discussed the issue of aid for Afghanistan in a separate meeting the same day with UN Deputy Secretary-General Kenzo Oshima. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE CAUTIONS UZBEKISTAN ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Visiting Tashkent on 22 October, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana warned that while the international community appreciates Uzbekistan's support for and involvement in the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign, and is prepared to grant Uzbekistan increased economic aid, it is not prepared to ignore what he termed "the human dimension," meaning the Uzbek leadership's suppression of political plurality and freedom of worship, AP reported. Geoana told journalists after his talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov that improving human rights is in Uzbekistan's best long-term interests. LF

UZBEKISTAN SAYS IT WILL NOT OPEN BORDER BRIDGE WITH AFGHANISTAN

For security reasons, Uzbekistan will not open the bridge over the Amu-Darya River at Termez that marks its frontier with Afghanistan, but does not object to airlifting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan or ferrying it over the river, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov told journalists on 22 October after meeting with Geoana, Reuters reported. The bridge has been closed since the Taliban consolidated their control of most of Afghanistan in 1997. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTY PROPOSES DIALOGUE WITH LUKASHENKA

The United Civic Party (AHP) has addressed a proposal to the administration of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to begin talks on democratizing the public life and legitimizing the legislature through democratic elections, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 22 October. AHP leader Anatol Lyabedzka told RFE/RL that the talks could focus on the OSCE's four conditions for democratic elections in Belarus: enacting legislation to ensure a transparent electoral process; giving the opposition access to the government-controlled media; stopping political oppression; and expanding the legislature's powers. The AHP has also asked for airtime to present its dialogue proposal on Belarusian Television. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CALLED TO ACCOUNT

The Political Council of the Belarusian opposition has called on former single opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk and his campaign managers Vasil Lyavonau and Valyantsina Palevikova to account for the recent presidential campaign, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 19 October. The motion was proposed by Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich and supported by the Party of Communists and the Party of Labor. In particular, Statkevich wants Hancharyk to address the recent allegations of misuse of Western aid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001) and to report on how Hancharyk's election headquarters has fulfilled its obligations to regional election staffs. JM

KYIV, PRAGUE DISAGREE ON SIZE OF SOVIET-ERA DEBT

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko and his Czech counterpart Jan Kavan held talks in Kyiv on 22 October. Kavan urged Kyiv to repay its Soviet-era debt to the Czech Republic, which dates back to a construction accord in 1985. Kavan said the debt should have been repaid by the end of 2000. "Depending on the dollar-hryvnya exchange rate to be used in calculations, we think Ukraine's debt amounts to $200-220 million," STB television quoted Kavan as saying. Meanwhile, Zlenko said the debt stands at $79.8 million, adding that Kyiv is going to pay it with commodities and gas supplies. JM

MOLDOVA'S TRANSDNIESTER LEADER IN KYIV

Igor Smirnov, the leader of Moldova's Transdniester breakaway region, met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 22 October, Interfax reported. "In particular, the presidents of both countries discussed relations between Ukraine and Transdniester in the energy, transport, and humanitarian spheres. Considerable attention was paid to the situation at the Transdniester-Ukraine border as well as to customs issues," Interfax quoted a Transdniester official as saying. The meeting followed last week's visit by Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh to Chisinau, where Moldova and Ukraine failed to sign an expected accord on the introduction of joint customs service posts. JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER REPORTEDLY SUES 'FINANCIAL TIMES'

The "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 22 October that former Premier Viktor Yushchenko has sued the "Financial Times" for an article the newspaper published on 5 June 2000. The article, which dealt with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Kyiv, mentioned Yushchenko in one paragraph, saying that his government has been a disappointment and recalling that Yushchenko in his former capacity of National Bank governor was accused of mismanaging bank funds. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES DISCUSSIONS ON ABOLISHING LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS

The parliament by a vote of 39 to 32 decided on 22 October not to discuss this week the amendments to the laws on parliament and local elections that would abolish the Estonian language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local governments, ETA reported. The opposition People's Union had proposed the postponement, with the Center Party suggesting that Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves should make a co-report on the amendments proposed by a deputy from each of the three partners in the ruling coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October, 2001). Moderates Chairman Ilves said he is willing to explain his reasons for favoring making amendments to the elections laws. On the other hand, Prime Minister Mart Laar asserted that the amendments cannot be supported in their current form and must modified to ensure that they cannot lead to a change in the working language of the parliament. SG

U.S. MILITARY REPRESENTATIVE TO NATO VISITS LATVIA

Lieutenant General Timothy A. Kinnan began a two-day visit to Latvia on 22 October with meetings with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and the commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces, Colonel Raimonds Graube, LETA reported. Graube provided information to Kinnan regarding Latvia's plans for improving its armed forces, including the document to be presented to NATO headquarters in November that outlines the planned structure of the National Armed Forces until 2008. Kinnan also visited the National Academy of Defense, which has based its military education studies on a new concept this year. He is scheduled to visit the Naval Forces base in Liepaja, the Adazi military training base, and the BALTNET air-surveillance system center at Riga International Airport on 23 October. SG

SCHROEDER PLEDGES TO HELP LITHUANIA ENTER EU IN NEXT ROUND OF EXPANSION

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas on 22 October in Berlin that his country will help Lithuania in its efforts to join the EU in the next round of expansion, BNS reported. He also mentioned that NATO will continue its "open-door policy" by which no country outside the alliance has the right to prevent new members from joining. Schroeder also inquired about Lithuania's plans to close the nuclear power plant at Ignalina. Brazauskas began a three-day official visit to Germany earlier that day with talks with Bundestag Vice-President Anke Fuchs, who affirmed that Germany will actively support Lithuania's bids to join the EU and NATO. Brazauskas noted that Germany should pay more attention to Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, which is bordered by Poland and Lithuania. SG

PROSECUTOR ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR FORMER SOLIDARITY LAWMAKER

The District Prosecutor's Office in Katowice has issued an arrest warrant for Marek Kolasinski, a former parliamentary deputy of the Solidarity Electoral Action, Polish media reported on 22 October. The office has not disclosed its charges against Kolasinski, but it is unofficially known that he is suspected of committing economic crimes. Using a diplomatic passport, Kolasinski left Poland on 19 October, a few hours before the expiration of his parliamentary immunity, Polish Television reported. JM

CZECH POLICE QUERY SLOVAK COUNTERPARTS ABOUT ANTITANK MISSILE

Police spokeswoman Ivana Zelankova told CTK on 22 October that the antitank missile that was found in the vicinity of Prague's international airport on 18 October belonged to the arsenal of the former federal Interior Ministry forces in the 1980s. Zelankova said that after the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia, most of these weapons were transferred to Slovakia and "now we face the task of finding out whether the missile belongs to the transferred arsenal or not." She said Czech police will ask their Slovak counterpart to help in the inquiry. A Slovak Interior Ministry spokesman said that he "knows nothing" about such a request having been made, but does not rule it out. MS

CZECH PILOTS CRITICIZE CABINET ON SECURITY-VETTING DECISION

Czech Pilots Union spokesman Karel Muendel criticized on 22 October a decision by the cabinet to introduce security vetting of Czech flight staff, CTK reported. The decision was adopted on 19 October by the interministerial National Emergency Committee, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States. Muendel said the Interior Ministry should devise plans to protect flight crews and passengers from terrorists instead of "inventing nonsense." Muendel said this is the "second nonsense decision," following the one to allow the shooting down of civil planes hijacked by terrorists. MS

CZECH CABINET TO FILE LAWSUITS AGAINST POLITICAL WEEKLY

Prime Minister Milos Zeman announced after the cabinet's meeting of 22 October that the cabinet as a whole and each of its 17 ministers will file separate lawsuits against the weekly "Respekt" and "put it out of existence," CTK reported. Zeman said each minister will ask for 10 million crowns (over $268,000) in compensation against the weekly's claim, in an article published the same day, that "from the youngest to the most senior" cabinet member, each minister is corrupt. The premier said he wants an "equality-partnership with the media," but "when it tell lies, journalists should not be surprised if the government's response is allergic." The weekly "Respekt" is published by the R-Presse trust, in which President Vaclav Havel's former head of office, millionaire Karel Schwarzenberg, has a majority stake. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS MINISTERS MUST CUT SPENDING

Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus told radio Frekvence 1 on 22 October that cuts in the 2002 budgets of several ministries are "indispensable" and that such cuts "cannot be merely cosmetic." Klaus said expenditure must be reduced in social affairs, industry, agriculture, and transportation and that the budget should be smaller for both revenues and expenditure. MS

CZECH ARMY TO PURCHASE RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS

Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told journalists on 19 October that the Czech army will purchase six Mi-35 combat helicopters from Russia, CTK reported, Tvrdik said the delivery of the helicopters will reduce Russia's debt to the Czech Republic. He also said the Russian-made Mi-24 helicopters currently being used by the Czech military will undergo modernization within the same process of debt settlement. MS

CZECH RULING PARTY LAUNCHES 'INTERNAL REFERENDUM' ON DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Vladimir Spidla, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD), told journalist on 20 October that an "internal referendum" has been launched in the CSSD to determine members' positions on the proposal of the Four Party Coalition to amend the constitution to allow for direct presidential elections, CTK reported. Spidla said the results of the referendum will not be binding on the CSSD leadership and that he expects them by 8 December. MS

SLOVAK TV MOGUL ATTACKS CZECH COMPETITOR

Pavol Rusko, co-owner of the private Markiza TV and leader of the ANO Party, told CTK on 22 October that if the Slovak License Council decides at its meeting on 23 October to grant a license to Vladimir Zelezny, the owner of Czech Nova TV, this would be tantamount to "granting a banking license to Viktor Kozeny." Kozeny is a controversial Czech financier who helped start the Czech coupon privatization in the mid-1990s and was later charged with fraud. Rusko said the ruling of an international arbitration court that Zelezny "committed a criminal act" in the conflict over Nova TV ownership justifies him in making the statement. He also said that if Zelezny is granted the license, "programs will be made according to Prague's decision" and "we have had enough Czechoslovak broadcasts over 40 years, we are fed up with them." MS

SLOVAK ARMY TO PURCHASE ANTIBIOLOGICAL WAR MEDICINE

Defense Minister Jozef Stank told journalists on 21 October that the Slovak army is purchasing medicine to counter biological weapons as well as equipment for the same purpose worth 60 million crowns (some $1.2 million). Stank said overall spending on national security following the terrorist attack on the United States is estimated at approximately 150 million crowns. MS

HUNGARY HAS NO INTENTION OF RENOUNCING STATUS LAW

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told Hungarian radio on 22 October that Budapest has no reason to renounce the implementation of the Status Law, Mediafax reported. Nemeth said the Council of Europe's Venice Commission "positively" evaluated the law and that "not even Romania can possibly doubt that" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). He said Romania "celebrated victory just because it would otherwise be very difficult to convince domestic public opinion" that negotiations must now start with Hungary on the law's implementation. He said Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase has been invited to visit Hungary and "if he does not harbor the intention to amplify the conflict, he is welcome any time in Budapest -- the sooner, the better." Nemeth said Hungary forwarded proposals a few weeks earlier to Romania regarding the Status Law, but has not received a response. "If Romania does not want to discuss the matter, we shall consider that it has accepted our proposals and go ahead with the implementation," Nemeth said. MS

TRANSPORT MINISTERS AGREE ON 'VISEGRAD EXPRESS'

Transport ministers from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia on 19 October agreed in Visegrad, Hungary, to launch a modern train next year called "Visegrad Express" connecting Budapest, Bratislava, Brno, and Warsaw, TASR reported. The train will reduce traveling time by 20 percent by simplifying border controls. The four ministers also discussed coordination in improving freight transport by rail and in other infrastructure development. MS




HAGUE PROSECUTOR SLAMS YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT FOR NOT COOPERATING...

A "visibly irritated" Carla Del Ponte told reporters in Belgrade on 22 October that the Yugoslav authorities are not cooperating with the war crimes tribunal and refuse to face the truth about Serbia's recent past, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). She said: "I want to express my serious concern and deep dissatisfaction with the level of cooperation of Yugoslavia with my office. On a whole range of issues, I can report no serious progress. I had hoped that I would finally have access to all necessary evidence, but I was waiting in vain. Denying access to this information...only fosters suspicion that people in power are not interested to disclose and face the truth." She stressed that "it is clear that cooperation is blocked by the federal level for political reasons which are not relevant to the tribunal." Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica regards the court as an anti-Serbian instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Belgrade has yet to pass a long-promised law on cooperation with The Hague. PM

...ACKNOWLEDGES SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER'S HELP

Del Ponte told reporters in Belgrade on 22 October that the Serbian government's extradition of former President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague earlier this year was not enough. She nonetheless added that "to be fair, I must say that Mr. [Zoran] Djindjic, the [Serbian] prime minister, and his government are trying to foster some aspects of cooperation." Serbian officials nonetheless did not appear with her before the media, as had been scheduled, "The New York Times" reported. Serbian police chief Dusan Mihajlovic said, however, that former Admiral Miodrag Jokic, whom the tribunal has indicted for his role in the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik, may soon turn himself in (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Jokic is a member of Mihajlovic's New Democracy Party. PM

SERBIAN WORKERS TAKE TO THE STREETS

Thousands of workers demonstrated on the streets of Belgrade on 23 October to demand higher wages and protest a proposed new law that would give employers more rights, AP reported. The Association of Serbian Unions, which was long close to Milosevic, threatened to organize a general strike if its demands are not met. Under Milosevic, the communist-era economic system went unreformed while vast criminal economic structures flourished. Djindjic and his government have pledged themselves to end Serbia's poverty by introducing market reforms, uprooting the deeply entrenched criminal structures, repairing the damage from four lost wars, and seeking Western integration. They freely acknowledge that their task is daunting. PM

SERBIAN PROSECUTOR CHARGES VOJVODINA LEADER

The state prosecutor's office in Novi Sad launched legal proceedings on 22 October against Nenad Canak, the speaker of the Vojvodina parliament, head of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, and an outspoken advocate of restoring the regional autonomy that Milosevic destroyed over a decade ago, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The charges stem from a recent incident in which Canak removed the sign for Radio-Television Serbia from state-run television's offices in Novi Sad. The prosecutor's office said, among other things, that Canak "damaged Serbia's image" by taking down the sign. Upon learning of the charges against him, Canak said that nothing damages Serbia's image more than the fact that an indicted war criminal -- Milan Milutinovic -- continues to serve as its president. PM

RESULTS IN VOJVODINA AUTONOMY TALKS?

Vojvodina political leader and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Jozef Kasza said in Novi Sad on 22 October that he is convinced that ongoing talks between the Serbian and Vojvodina leaderships are making progress "step by step," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kasza added that he expects concrete results to be forthcoming within 10 days. PM

MIXED SIGNALS FOR MACEDONIAN POLICE PATROLS

Ethnic Macedonian inhabitants of the villages visited by ethnically mixed police patrols on 22 October greeted the police, but local Albanians did not return the officers' smiles, Western news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Albanians told journalists that it is too soon for police to return to the tense areas because the police are widely regarded as supportive of Macedonians and antagonistic toward Albanians. Albanian legislator Lokman Elezi told AP that the police should not come back before parliament enacts key reforms giving the Albanians more equality. Deputy Prime Minister Ilija Filipovski told Reuters, however, that he hopes that the return of the police will "accelerate the reform process in parliament" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 October 2001). After the police left Tearce, a bomb damaged two municipal buildings, which "The Washington Post" said "reflected Albanian unhappiness with the progress made by Slav leaders in changing the political system." No one was injured. PM

EUROPEAN LOAN FOR CROATIA

Officials of Croatia and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have signed a $80 million loan to build a Rijeka-Zagreb highway, dpa reported from the Croatian capital on 22 October. The highway is slated for completion in 2004. PM

BOSNIAN SERB HEALTH WORKERS STRIKE

Some 12,000 health workers went on strike in the Republika Srpska on 22 October to demand back pay, new contracts, and guarantees that they will have the resources they need to do their jobs, Reuters reported from Banja Luka. Union leaders say the strike will last until the demands are met. In the meantime, medical staff will handle emergency cases only. PM

SLOVENIA BUYS INTO BOSNIAN VOLKSWAGEN PLANT

The Slovenian auto company Prevent has bought 42 percent of the shares of Volkswagen's plant in Sarajevo, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 October. The Slovenes paid $900,000 and pledged to invest a further $9 million. PM

U.S. COMMANDERS STRESS NEED TO REMAIN IN BALKANS

Unnamed U.S. military commanders in Europe want the Pentagon to keep its forces in Bosnia and Kosova despite pressures to deploy them elsewhere, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 September 2001). The commanders fear that fighting will soon resume in Bosnia without the American presence. U.S. troops are also seen as essential to preserve a modicum of law and order in Kosova and maintain the confidence of local Albanians in the work of the international community there. The U.S. has 3,100 troops in Bosnia, or 17 percent of the total. It also has 5,400 troops in Kosova. Virtually all of the NATO casualties there have been borne by the French, British, and other Europeans. PM

EU OFFICIAL SAYS ROMANIA IS ON TRACK

Eneko Landaburu, the head of the EU's Enlargement Directorate, met in Bucharest on 22 October with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and said he "salutes the substantial progress" Romania has made toward meeting EU admission criteria, according to Romanian radio. Landaburu said Romania must still improve its macroeconomic policies, while paying particular attention to the inflation rate and improving the tax revenues. The country must also consolidate public administration reform, according to Landaburu. The meeting took place ahead of the European Commission's annual progress report on candidate countries. Landaburu also met with President Ion Iliescu and with Hildergard Puwak, the minister for European integration. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY BACKS LIFTING TUDOR'S IMMUNITY

The leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) unanimously decided on 22 October to back the lifting of Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor's parliamentary immunity, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The same day, Viorel Hrebenciuc, the PSD deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, presented in that chamber the Justice Ministry's request for lifting the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party Deputy Danut Saulea. Like Tudor, Saulea is accused of having disseminated false information on the alleged training in Romania of Hamas terrorists. MS

HUNGARIAN LEADER IN ROMANIA SAYS RELATIONS WITH RULING PARTY AT A CROSSROADS

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said on 22 October that relations between his formation and the PSD are "at a crossroads," Mediafax reported. Marko spoke ahead of a planned meeting between the leaderships of the two parties. He said the PSD must decide between collaboration with the UDMR or "the final deterioration of relations." Marko said the anti-Hungarian rhetoric of the PSD has not ceased and as of late that rhetoric has been accompanied by "concrete measures," such as the search in Hungarian-language schools for textbooks printed in Hungary. He said that if these measures are not stopped, it will be impossible to continue the current collaboration agreement in the parliament. MS

ROMANIAN DISSIDENT PEASANTISTS LAUNCH NEW PARTY

The dissenting wing in the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 20 October decided to set up the new Popular Christian Party, (PPC) Mediafax reported. Vasile Lupu, who along with Andrei Marga and Calin Constantin Chirita heads the wing, on 22 October said the decision "puts an end to the conflict with the Ciorbea wing in the PNTCD." Lupu said 27 PNTCD local branches support the new party and that several smaller political formations of the center-right might join the PPC. MS

KING CAROL II TO BE REINTERRED IN ROMANIA?

Culture Minister Razvan Theodorescu on 22 October said in the Senate that the earthly remains of King Carol II, who died in Portugal after having abdicated the throne in 1940, must be returned and "buried in the Orthodox Romanian earth." Theodorescu made the comments in response to a parliamentary interpellation by PSD Senator Adrian Paunescu last week. Theodorescu said Carol II "was a historic personality, who had his lights and his shadows." He added that Carol II, who was King Michael's father, was "the first Orthodox Hohenzollern." Last week, Paunescu demanded that the remains of King Carol II and of his second wife, Elena Lupescu, be reinterred in Romania. MS

U.S. EMBASSY IN MOLDOVA REJECTS ALLEGATIONS OF HUMAN ORGANS TRAFFICKING.

The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau has rejected allegations made last week on a local television program that adopted Moldovan children are used in the United States for the purpose of trafficking in human organs, Infotag reported. The embassy said it is "disturbed and offended" by the allegations and called them "ridiculous and baseless." A statement released by the embassy said the United States has fully cooperated with the Moldovan authorities since the decision was adopted earlier this year to suspend all international adoptions while Moldovan authorities conduct an investigation into possible irregularities in the adoption process. The embassy said the acts attributed to U.S. citizens in the allegations are punishable in the United States by long prison terms and "any credible evidence of such actions presented by the government of the Republic of Moldova will be immediately passed on to the appropriate authorities in the U.S. and prosecuted to the fullest extent provided for in the letter of the law." MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER HOLDS TALKS WITH EU LEADERS...

Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski told European Commission President Romano Prodi on 22 October that accession to the EU is a very high priority for his cabinet, BTA reported. He said his government is aware of the fact that the task "is not easy," but added that he hopes Bulgaria's progress will be substantial and make ending negotiations in 2004 and joining the EU in 2006 possible. Prodi said the fact that Saxecoburggotski's first visit abroad was to Brussels indicates the value Bulgaria places on relations with the EU. He also said that after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, the EU enlargement process has turned into "an instrument to guarantee democracy, security, and stability in Europe." EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Saxecoburggotski that Bulgaria must continue to push for reforms of the judicial system and public administration, as well as of the economy. He said the next report of the European Commission, likely to be published on 13 November, will reflect both the progress made by Bulgaria and the reforms that are still necessary to meet EU standards. Saxecoburggotski also met with Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Reuters reported. MS

...AND NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL

Saxecoburggotski later met with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and told him that Bulgaria is willing to send troops to the Balkans in the event that U.S. troops are redeployed from the former Yugoslavia to Afghanistan, Reuters reported. He said Bulgaria will try to carry out military reforms by November 2002, when NATO is expected to make a decision on expansion at its Prague summit. Robertson said he "warmly" welcomes the offer, but added that this "is not an immediate prospect at the present moment." MS

POLL SHOWS STOYANOV AHEAD

A public opinion poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Center shows that incumbent President Petar Stoyanov is supported by 49.9 percent of the electorate ahead of the 11 November presidential elections in Bulgaria, BTA reported. Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov is backed by 11.5 percent and former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev is in third with 6.3 percent support. Meanwhile, the commission that checks the records of candidates on possible involvement with the communist security services announced that "no irrefutable evidence" of collaboration has been found on any of the six presidential candidates or their vice presidential running mates. MS

BULGARIANS UNENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT U.S. OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

According to a poll conducted by The National Opinion Poll Center, more Bulgarians oppose the U.S. action in Afghanistan (45.5 percent) than those who support it (40.5 percent), BTA reported. Bulgaria's quest to join NATO is supported by 64 percent, and EU accession by 82 percent of the respondents. MS




POPULATION DECLINE A BIG PROBLEM FOR LITTLE ESTONIA


By Breffni O'Rourke

(This is the first in a series of articles relating to demographic trends in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE.)

Estonia is one of the success stories of transition. Since regaining independence from the Soviet Union, it has pursued a vigorous reform course, and has enjoyed strong economic growth. It has also become a favorite for first-wave entry into the European Union in the next few years.

But the country's progress is being threatened from an unexpected quarter: it has one of the world's lowest birth rates. As things stand now, so few Estonians are being born that the present population level cannot be maintained. In fact, some people worry that given another century, there won't be any Estonians left at all!

More immediately, the question arises of how the economy can continue expanding at a time when fewer workers are entering the marketplace. And how can the declining workforce support an ever-growing number of retirees?

"In the United States there are 3.4 workers for every retired person," said independent economist Heido Vitsur. "In Estonia there are 1.5 workers per one retired person. And if we [continue to] have a birthrate as low as we do now, there will [eventually] be less than one worker per retired person, and this impact will be damaging for the Estonian economy -- we cannot survive."

Vitsur, who is based in Tallinn, says Estonia's birthrate is 40 percent below the level needed to stabilize the population.

Why is this happening? Demographers point out that there are two broad conditions that can produce falling birth rates in the more developed world: an increase in poverty, and -- ironically -- an increase in prosperity. In other words, when people face a decline in living standards, they tend to have fewer children. Conversely, when living standards increase, they also have fewer children, preferring to establish themselves financially first, or to spend resources on things like automobiles and holidays.

In Estonia, both factors are probably relevant, in that divisions in income have widened under the market reforms -- some people have prospered, some have not.

Vilja Kuzmin, a top specialist with the Estonian Social Affairs Ministry, says the childbearing rate of Estonian women has in any case traditionally been moderate -- in line with the "European model," as she puts it -- but since independence it has fallen further. For instance, in 1970 there were 15.85 live births per 1,000 citizens and a similar birthrate persisted until the end of the 1980s. Then, in the early 1990s, the birthrate began to plummet, reaching 8.70 by the end of the decade. Demographers believe that the rate has now stabilized at about nine. Estonian women now have 1.3 children on average.

"It has gone down because the first childbirth begins at a later age than before," Kuzmin said. "People first want to be economically secured, they look for a professional career, they study longer. So we see the first child later. Some years ago it was normal to see the first childbirth at the age [for the mother] of 18 or 19; now it's 25 to 26."

Demographer Juergen Fluethmann, a member of the Berlin-based German Demographic Society, said that rapid change in economic factors is a key influence. "Estonia, and all the other [Baltic] countries, have the highest economic growth rates among many European countries," Fluethmann said. "That means the economic development of these countries is racing forward, more quickly than elsewhere, and economic development has always an influence on population development. There is always a close link between economics and demographic developments. The more the social product grows, the higher the lifespan, and the more [women's] fertility declines. This is a connection to be seen practically everywhere in the world."

Fluethmann went on to say that the decline in the birthrate in the Baltics has been particularly sharp, and he relates this to the sudden political and economic changes in the region.

In the early 1990s in Eastern Germany, the birthrate also dropped alarmingly, reaching 5.1 in 1993. But then the fertility rate per woman recovered somewhat -- and now appears to have stabilized in united Germany at over nine. Fluethmann sees the same thing happening in the Baltics. "I believe that in the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we will see a consolidation [of the birthrate] taking place," Fluethmann said. "I believe strongly that in those places, like in Eastern Germany, we will see an increase [in the rate] in future, but at the same time, I doubt that it would reach previous levels."

So then, that still leaves fewer people to operate economies -- like Estonia's -- that may be expanding. Many observers, Fluethmann included, believe that continued automation could provide at least a partial solution. In the last generation, for example, millions of assembly line jobs were eliminated by the use of robots.

However, economist Vitsur sees robots and other machinery as offering no solution for Estonia "because Estonia is not so much an industrial country, but a country of services, and increasing our productivity in services [through automation] could not be so great as in industry."

Other possible solutions are government incentives for young families to have more children. Parliamentary deputy Mart Nutt of the Pro-Patria Union, a member of the governing coalition, noted that the present Estonian government is moving on the issue of incentives. "Our government already decided to increase [financial] benefits to families with more than two children, and I think this is a very positive and important step," he said.

But government financial incentives, however generous, cannot by themselves provide the answer. There remains immigration. That's a delicate theme in practically every European country, where social tensions can rise if the host community feels threatened by too great an influx of foreigners. Already about one-third of Estonia's population is ethnic Russian.

However, Vitsur sees immigration as the "only solution" and demographer Fluethmann also calls it inevitable. Deputy Nutt is also in favor of immigration, and he says that the falling birthrate generally in Europe -- including Russia -- means that most immigrants will probably come from the developing world. He acknowledges the risk of social tension, but says work must be done to prepare Estonians for the situation. "Estonia must be open for all possible immigrants, if they want to work here, if they want to integrate into Estonian society," Nutt said. "I cannot say that we can expect only to be open for one ethnic group, but not for other, different ones."

Kuzmin of the Social Security Ministry, however, says her ministry is not relying on immigration as a means of keeping the country's pension system afloat. She says the ministry is planning for a worst-case scenario of a worker-to-retiree ratio of 1 to 1.4 until the year 2040.

She said her country is working on an updated social security system, under which young people now arriving in the labor market will partly finance their own future pensions. Workers now also have the option of further coverage though voluntary insurance. In this way, she said, Estonia hopes to meet its social security obligations to the coming generation.

Breffni O'Rourke is an RFE/RL correspondent.


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